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A vegetarian diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

A vegetarian diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

Vegetarian diet
Photo: APR/ABC

A vegetarian diet reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

New research published in diabetes (Journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]found that consumption of healthy plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee and legumes, is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D) in generally healthy people.

Harvard T Chan School of Public Health*

Led by Professor Frank Ho and colleagues in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, the study aims to identify metabolic profiles associated with different plant-based diets and investigate potential associations between these diets. they. Features and risks of developing DM2.

A metabolite is a substance used or produced by chemical processes in an organism, and includes a large number of compounds found in various foods, as well as a complex set of molecules that arise when these compounds are broken down and converted for use by the body.

Differences in the chemical composition of foods mean that an individual’s diet should be reflected in their metabolic profile. Recent technological advances in the field of high-throughput metabolic profiling have heralded a new era of nutritional research. Metabolomics is defined as the comprehensive analysis and identification of all the different metabolites present in a biological sample.

More than 90% of diabetes cases are type 2, and this condition poses a major health threat worldwide. The global prevalence of the disease among adults has more than tripled in less than two decades, with cases rising from about 150 million in 2000 to more than 450 million in 2019, and is expected to rise to about 700 million by 2045.

The global health burden of T2DM is further increased by the numerous complications arising from the disease, both macrovascular, such as cardiovascular disease, and microvascular, which damage the kidneys, eyes, and nervous system. The diabetes epidemic is mainly caused by unhealthy diets, overweight or obesity, genetic predisposition and other lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise. Plant-based diets, especially healthy diets rich in high-quality foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, have been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, but the underlying mechanisms involved are not fully understood.

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The team analyzed blood plasma samples and dietary intake from 10,684 participants from three prospective cohorts (Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study 2, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study). Participants were predominantly white, middle-aged (mean age 54 years) and average body mass index (BMI) of 25.6 kg/m2.

Study participants completed food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) that were scored according to their adherence to three plant-based diets: the general plant-based diet index (PDI), the healthy plant-based diet index (hPDI), and the unhealthy diet index. Diet-Based Index (uPDI). Dietary indices were based on an individual’s intake of 18 food groups: healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea/coffee); Unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, potatoes, sugary drinks, sweets/desserts); and foods of animal origin (animal fats, dairy products, eggs, fish/seafood, meat, and various foods of animal origin). The team distinguished between healthy and unhealthy plant foods according to their association with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and other conditions.

The researchers tested blood samples taken in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the three studies mentioned above to create metabolic profile scores for the participants, and any cases of T2D were recorded during the study’s follow-up period. Analyzes of this data, along with the diet index scores, allowed the team to find any associations between the metabolite profile, the diet index, and type 2 diabetes risk.

The study found that compared to participants who did not develop T2D, those who were diagnosed with the disease during follow-up had a lower intake of healthy plant foods, as well as lower scores on the PDI and hPDI. In addition, they had a higher average body mass index and were more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, use blood pressure and cholesterol medications, have a family history of diabetes, and be less physically active.

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Metabolomics data revealed that vegetarian diets were associated with unique profiles of multiple metabolites and that these patterns differed significantly between healthy and unhealthy vegetarian diets. Furthermore, metabolic profile scores for the holistic vegetarian diet and the healthy vegetarian diet were inversely associated with incident T2D in an overall healthy population, independent of BMI and other diabetes risk factors, whereas no association was observed for unhealthy vegetarianism. Based diet. As a result, higher metabolic profile scores for PDI and hPDI indicated closer adherence to these diets and lower risk of T2DM.

Further analysis revealed that after adjusting for levels of trigonelin, aspartate, isoleucine, a small group of triacylglycerols (TAGs), and several other intermediate metabolites, the association between plant-based diets and T2D disappeared, suggesting that they may play a major role. Linking these diets to diabetes. Trigonelin, for example, is found in coffee and has shown beneficial effects on insulin resistance in animal studies, while higher levels of hippurate are associated with better blood sugar control, increased insulin secretion, and a lower risk of T2DM. The team suggests that these metabolites can be further studied and may provide mechanistic explanations for how plant-based diets may beneficially affect type 2 diabetes risk.

Professor Ho explains: “Although the contributions of individual foods are difficult to infer because they are analyzed together as a pattern, the individual metabolites resulting from the consumption of polyphenol-rich plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, coffee and legumes are all closely related to diet. A healthy plant-based diet and lower risk of disease. With diabetes.

The authors conclude: “Our findings support the beneficial role of healthy plant-based diets in diabetes prevention and provide new insights for future investigations… associations of plant-based diets and diabetes risk.” Type 2 diabetes“.

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Because they only collected blood samples at one point in time, the authors also believe that repeated, long-term metabolic data are necessary to understand how dietary changes relate to changes in metabolism and thus influence the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


Wang, F., Baden, M.E., Guasch-Ferre, M. et al. Plasma metabolite profiles related to vegetarian diets and risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes (2022).

Henry Cortez * Translation and editing.

In EcoDebate, ISSN 2446-9394,

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